Written by: T.K. McNeil, Researcher & Author of Social Trends and Alternative Religion
Wiccans are often the subject of fascination, conjecture, and fear. Those belonging to the Wiccan religion are among the most maligned and misunderstood groups of people in modern society. Wicca has become shorthand for “otherness” if not outright evil. Though nothing could be further from the truth. The contemporary incarnation of Wicca, based on pre-Christian spiritualities, was started by Englishman Gerald Gardner in the late-1930s. Carried on into the 1970s by Gardner’s young protege Alex Sanders and his wife, Maxine. Despite its relative modernity, the roots of Wicca go back to the time of Celts and Druids, this “new paganism” believes humanity’s religious life should “center on ritual nature veneration, natural cycles, and magical and spiritual learning.” A distinct difference between Wicca and the other world religions is the concept that divinity is both male and female. When questioned, many Wiccans noted their attraction to the non-patriarchal world-view of the Wicca religion. In Wicca, the two genders complement and strengthen one another. There are some under the impression that it is about female supremacy. This view is incorrect. Some have belief-systems based around female deities entirely though, the pagans in the more general sense as opposed to Wiccans in particular.
Simply put, people who practice the Wiccan religion are nature worshippers; they see every part of nature, including humans, as being part of an interconnected, sacred whole. As with most other pagan faiths, Wicca has many deities associated with it. Unlike other religions, these deities are entirely optional, not only in terms of which one you can choose to associate with but whether you want to believe in them at all. Anthropomorphic is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities, similar to the figures of Catholic Saints. The historical roots of the modern-day Wicca religion are ancient. Through arranged marriages and royal decree Christianity became the only authorized religion of western culture. The Catholic Church and their religiously aligned governments denounced polytheism and outlawed it across Europe. As the dominant Christian culture worked ceaselessly to destroy all vestiges of pagan worship, practitioners went underground.
A term often used to describe the Wiccan religion is “occult.” According to various dictionaries, the occult is a specific term referring to any non-monotheistic belief system which has either as its basis or as a significant part of its structure, magic-based rituals or practices. The number of pagan belief systems that have occult factors as part of their tradition is relatively low. In terms of magical practices, often called “spell-casting,” a bit of context is needed. Even the most devout, practitioners of Wicca will openly admit that there is no such thing as zapping someone and making them fall in love with you. It does not work that way. What can be done is an “attraction potion.“ A compound of natural elements, including water and plant spices, to create a particular smell designed to trigger a pheromone response. Something closer to chemistry or herbalism than sorcery. What magic is for most Wiccans is not a way to control reality or “play God” but rather a means to connect with the sacred natural whole.
Surprising as it may be, not all Wiccans practice witchcraft. Witchcraft is a magical practice encompassing many, sometimes over-lapping systems. There are Voodoo “Witch Doctors” there are Native American Shamans there are Atheist Witches and even Christian Witches. There are also a lot more of both Wiccans and Witches than a lot of people realize. Wicca is, for example, the fastest-growing alternative religion in the United Kingdom. “Alternative,” meaning anything that does not fall into the traditional, monotheistic, Abrahamic tradition embodied by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The primary source of discord with Christianity tends to originate with the commandment about having other gods. Except that the exact wording is “thou shall have no gods before me.” Not “thou shall have no gods except me.” Examples of people who have mixed their sacred nature with their god include T.S. Elliot, Blaise Pascal, and Sir Isaac Newton. None of them stupid or evil men, all of whom subscribed to belief systems that combined monotheism with elements of reverence for the natural world.
Speaking of evil, the assumptions conflating the Wiccan religion with devil worship are entirely fraudulent. There is no analog for Satan in pre-Christian pagan traditions. Some have tried to conflate Hades the Greek Lord of the Underworld to Satan, but it is not a good fit. There are also several elements of philosophy that distance Satanism from pagan traditions, particularly Wicca. In the Wiccan tradition, there is the “Rule of Three.” The rule of three asserts whatever you put into the universe will come back to you three-fold. So, if one does evil, they will live with evil three-fold. There is also The Wiccan Rede, which reads in part: “An‘ ye harm none, do what ye will.” The Wiccan religion holds all life as sacred. To cause death or damage to any living thing would go against everything they believe, despite what ignorant, slander pieces like The Wickerman and Midsommar imply. There has not been a single sect of Paganism that has engaged in human sacrifice since the 5th century, and Wicca never has. To add to the confusion, both Wiccans and Satanists use the pentagram as a primary symbol. The pentagram is a favored symbol for many occult pagan belief systems, Wicca, in particular. The emblem has become inextricably associated with evil, even though the real history of the pentagram is long and complicated.
The meaning varies depending on the period and geographic region. In terms of Western culture, the pentagram has symbolized everything from the five limbs (arms, legs, head) to the five senses and the five wounds of Christ. The demonization of the pentagram is no different from the bastardization of the Swastika. The Swastika was long a symbol for good fortune and well-being, now tainted beyond recognition due to its association with Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party. The way to quickly tell a Wiccan or Pagan pentagram or pentacle from the Satanist versions is that Wiccans have it right side up with the single point going upwards and the Satanist version always has it upside down.
Something of a touchy subject in the Wiccan religious community is the assumption of sexual promiscuity and required ritual nudity. Ritual nudity, known as going sky clad, tends to exist in neo-pagan groups with an occult element such as Wicca, particularly those who also practice the “green” form of witchcraft and believe that they derive their power directly from nature, mainly the forest.There is also something called “sex magic,” which is not nearly as dirty as it sounds. The use of sexual energies to amplify connection to the sacred whole, this practice is not common to all sects of Wicca and almost always occurs and is most potent in the context of loving, committed relationships.
“Calling All Covens” Andrews, Allen, The Sunday Pictorial 6.29.1951:
The Meaning of Witchcraft, Gardner, G. 1988 Copple House Books
“When Governments Go After Witches” Jacobs, Ryan, The Atlantic 10.30.2013:
“The Day I Met A Witch” Macaulay, Jean 1961:http://www.thewica.co.uk/daymet.htm.
The Practice of Witchcraft Today, Skelton, R. 1990 Citadel Press
Magia Sexualis, Urban H.B. 2006 University of California Press
“Witchcraft Enthusiast in Britain Works to Keep the Craft Alive” Walker, Alan
The Montreal Gazette 10.27.1962: https://news.google.com
The Wiccan Rede: